Zach Schwartz (a.k.a. Zach Rogue) is a guy who believes in the power of positive thinking, and he’s had plenty of cause to lean on it aggressively. He’s lost jobs and close friends, yet the Rogue Wave frontman has always managed to find some glimmer of hope through his various trials. Yet while past Rogue Wave albums have triumphed over despair by dabbling pleasantly in warm, atmospheric indie pop, Nightingale Floors, the Oakland band’s fifth full-length effort, pushes the band’s stoicism to the brink. Written and recorded in the wake of the death of Schwartz’s father, the album finds the band grappling with love, life, death, and aging, all the while keeping a level head and tranquil state of mind.
Saying the band manages to salvage some semblance of grace in the face of adversity is an understatement. Maybe Schwartz is doing his hardest to force out a smile, or maybe he’s just that good at finding the silver lining in the most trying of circumstances. Either way, Nightingale Floors is almost incredulously centered, informed with the kind of calm and clarity unexpected from a singer coping so immediately with loss. The album’s lead track, “No Magnatone,” opens with a reverberated hum that fades from one eardrum into the other, but the irritable buzz quickly gives way to a steady snare beat and a lilting guitar line. With that, the band slips nicely into its own soothing, pop-rock niche. “When Sunday Morning Comes” is positively sugary in its twee-pop leanings, while the driving pop rock of “College” offers Nightingale’s lone retreat from its otherwise bittersweet life-and-death meditations.
But Schwartz isn’t just faking solace by ignoring the heartache; instead he digs deep into the hurt with both hands. Tracks such as “Figured It Out” and the sparse acoustic ballad “Without Pain” find the singer tackling his grief head-on without a trace of mystery or metaphor, but even then he does so with some reassured peace of mind. Musically, the band counters its weighty subject matter with a sound that’s plenty alive and in the moment. While 2010’s Permalight tinkered outside of the full-bodied, live-band formula in stretches, Nightingale Floors finds the band imbibing in plentiful amounts of nuanced power pop, and that helps make Schwartz’s look-on-the-bright-side ruminations feel all the more convincing.
Rogue Wave is no stranger to navigating around life’s many hurdles, and while Nightingale Floors presents the band with some of its biggest obstacles to date, Schwartz and company handle the chaos like old pros, further demonstrating their keen ability for mining something sweet out of life’s most sour notes.